Friday, May 15, 2009

CAN’T They?

The cold air ____________________my neck. How would you fill in the blank?

I’ve been working with a group of first grade poets and I posed the same question to them. In my head, I considered the words “blew on” and “breathes on.” My first grade friends came up with those words too but they also came up with “kisses,” “tickles,” and “stings.” When I brought this question to these young writers, I had preselected “breathes on” as the best choice for what I was trying to say. After talking to them, they made me reconsider. “Sting” was, by far, the BEST word for the image I was trying to create. I planned to teach these first graders something new about word choice and walked away having learned more than I could have ever taught them.

A colleague recently shared a story of a college professor who postulated in a graduate school class that first graders weren’t really capable of writing poetry. When she shared that story, all I could think about were these first graders. They write things like “the snake slithers like a worm” and “my guinea pig, my own little prairie dog, he’s so fast like lightening!” By virtue of being a child, they find poetry in everything. They are awed by things that stopped being beautiful to adults a long time ago. First graders can’t write poetry? Only if we grown-ups tell them they can’t. Otherwise, their words capture the poetry of the world perfectly.

1 comment:

Patti A. said...

Can they? You bet! My second graders are in week three of poetry and by far it has generated more enthusiasm than any other unit. Primary aged kids don’t have inhibitions about their abilities to be poets, nor do they have many preconceived notions about what makes a poem good. They are anxious to try out the different “crafts” we notice in our mentor poems. It seems to come so easy to them. Poetry is very accessible to them. Little kids love playing with words, ideas and shapes of their poems. They feed off each other and feel very comfortable when inspired by another poet. One little guy came to school one Monday and reported that his family had spent 7 hours stuck in traffic on the N.J. Turnpike the day before. Later that morning his poem about the trip included the line, ” and hours to go before we sleep, and hours to go before we sleep” He proudly showed me his notebook and said,” I underlined all the parts where I was inspired!’
The kids have been filling their notebooks, writing during recess and during dismissal as they sit in the hallway at my bus duty. Even my most reluctant writers are engaged. I think the question with poetry is the same as it is in many areas of teaching. Not can they, but can I. Can I teach seven year olds how to do this? Writing used to be the scariest thing for me to teach. Poetry, forget it. Then I tried it. Now, I wouldn’t skip this unit for the world. It brings too much joy and amazement with each new crop. As they say …out of the mouths of babes.